Saturday, November 11, 2023

What's Your Truth?


                                            "the truth is..." (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by memory_collector

Those of us who work with kids from at-risk environments are challenged by the truths embedded within their trauma. How much we know about the conditions of their lives is dependent on many things, not the least of which are the protocols surrounding the appropriate disclosure of the always sensitive details. Who needs to know? Can those who perhaps want to know impactful details about the kids they work with handle the emotions surrounding the circumstances? Are there those who won't benefit from knowing these details but insist on not being kept out of the loop? 

There appears to be a fairly aggressive desire to know as "much as we can" about the kids we work with, but what if we're focusing on the wrong truths? I'm the first person to assert that we need to know as much as we can about the "story behind the story" of the kids and families we serve, but when circumstances prevent us from knowing as much as we'd hope to, I think we can totally divine a simpler construct in support our most vulnerable clients. In the very simplest of terms, there's only one truth we absolutely need to implicitly know in order to do our best work with kids from at-risk environments... our own.

I have often been involved in difficult conversations regarding the "need to know." At times when it has been necessary to disclose confidential information about a child's personal circumstances, I will typically hear teachers and other school personnel make statements like, "If I had known more about this child, I would have changed the way I interacted with him," to which I typically ask two questions in reply... why and how? 

There's one thing we implicitly need to know about kids surviving adverse childhood experiences; our personal truth in the way we feel about supporting kids no matter the type of environment they arrive from every day. Call it a philosophy, a perspective, or whatever you'd like, but the way we perceive our role as kare-givers (caring for kids from at-risk environments,) is the most important awareness we need to be clear about and one that we can never go wrong with if it emerges from the right perspective. The first part of this truth is that we can never, ever judge a child. I often find that this judgement, when it does happen, is grounded in incorrect assumptions about the child; that the behaviour they're communicating with is intentional or premeditated. It's not.

This inaccurate judgement often also manifests in damaging language (verbal and body) that gets communicated back toward the child. We act out what we're feeling, even when we don't realize we're doing it. When we feel that kids are intentional in being "bad," the tendency to take their perceived actions personally is heightened. Our best work cannot materialize when we believe kids are coming to school with deliberate intent to make our day, and their classmate's days as miserable as possible.

Kids know much more about who they're dealing with than we know about them. I often say kids are like horses; they pick up on our nuances and impressions toward them so much more skillfully than we can toward them just like a horse can feel his rider through the saddle better than the rider can feel the horse. This reality puts both the horse, and the child, at a distinct advantage with respect to the ways they respond to our actions, feelings, and words directed toward them. Kids know when we're not at ease dealing with them.

If all of us who work with kids could empathetically approach each of them with kindness and acceptance perhaps we can get by without the advantage of knowing about where they come from. We'd be expressing nothing toward them that necessarily needed to be reacted to. We would be tapping into what good solution-focused therapists know about effectively working with their clients; that you don't need to dwell on the problems to effectively set goals toward the solutions. We should harbor no animosity toward others for not disclosing details about kids we don't need to know. We could simply feel what we should feel about our role as educators; privileged and humbled to have the opportunity to support them from wherever they arrive each and every day. Defaulting to that presents very good odds that we'll build the trust and comfort necessary for kids arriving from at-risk environments not to be at risk within our classroom environments too. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

My Fathers

January 25 was the one-year anniversary of my father-in-law's passing. Krishan Syal was a good man and one of my fathers. I miss him profoundly. I wrote this for him after he died. If I could, I would like to talk to him about what I'm going to write here. We had so many conversations about important things like this. Kris was one of the most authentic men I have had the privilege to know. He cared for me, respected me, and shared what he knew. He was a mentor and a friend. He was a father at a time when fatherhood is increasingly difficult to define. We need a new definition of what it means to be a father in the world today.

I'm reading "Of Boys And Men" by Richard V. Reeves. The book is an exploration of why the modern male is struggling, why it matters, and what we can do about that. The book addresses many elements of the male experience, and fatherhood is a prominent theme. A quote from the book stuck out for me,
A man who is integrated into a community through a role in a family, spanning generations into the past and future, will be more consistently and durably tied to the social order than a man responding chiefly to a charismatic leader, a demagogue, or a grandiose ideaology of patriotism." 
- George Gilder, 1973

When I read the words "charismatic leader," "demagogue" and "grandiose ideology," I don't need to think very hard to provide many contemporary examples of each one of these types of men. These are men who are lost in their perception of masculinity. They believe that to be strong, others must be weak. They possess insecurity and fear without knowing how to be humble and authentic. Locked in a zeitgeist of days gone by, they are confused about their place in a society that no longer fears them, and can no longer be controlled by them. They deny the true nature of their emotions masking them with anger and aggression. This is a diminished state of manhood that cannot be sustained. To say that our next evolutionary step forward for humanity depends on the formulation of a new definition of fatherhood is no exaggeration. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Read the Room...

Schools are filled with all kinds of rooms. 

Classrooms, offices, gyms, libraries, music rooms, computer and science labs, and more. The latest to emerge, and potentially the greatest of them all, is what many are calling the "Support Room." But what is a support room?

That depends largely on who you ask.

I have heard many definitions of what a support room is, but I haven't heard many definitions of what one isn't. It appears that a support room by any other name is potentially referred to as the "Sensory Room, the Calming Room, the Body Break Room, the Self-Regulation Room, the Regulation Room, and a few more. I suppose it doesn't really matter what we call these rooms if they satisfy the general purpose they're intended for... to support the needs of students who are having trouble coping in a typical classroom. 

A functional support room is simply a place in a school where kids can go to receive the added support required for any reason. In order to do this effectively, some conditions need to be established before any student actually goes to a support room. The last thing we want is the same school we always had, but now with a room full of expensive furniture, resources, and equipment added to it without the requisite thought required to make it an effective place where foundational learning relationships can be established. The environment of an effective support room starts with the rationale for it to exist in the first place, (to support the needs of students,) and extends from that base in several necessary directions. My view on how this needs to be structured is listed in rank order below; the three P's:

  1. People. An effective support room MUST have the right kind of people operating them. There is no alternative. If you can't find the right people, or you can't effectively train people already within your organization, don't bother creating a support room.
  2. Perspective. A support room CANNOT be another name for the "office," or any other place where challenging kids are sent to get them out of the classroom. I get it, the challenges kids present to teachers are increasingly difficult to accept and deal with, however, the manner in which we support our most vulnerable students is the measure of how effective we are as caring teachers and others who work in schools.
  3. Plan. Fail to plan, plan to fail... an effective support room NEEDS a system, a process, and a philosophy if it's going to actually do what is intended. The system should be based on sound research, solid pedagogy, and the principles of kindness and care that all who work with kids are governed by. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

The "Looking Glass" Classroom


“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass
The Looking Glass, as it were, is a curious metaphor to explain a young child's perception of the realities of school. Traditionally, the school has been a tool of social engineering, a place to stratify kids according to ability and how well they fit the construct of school, an institution that varied little from one to another. The school was a place that attempted to homogenize its subjects according to a rigid set of educational and social norms that suited many, but not all. Have schools changed much in this regard? One would surely hope, but I'm saddened to say that I do still occasionally observe the opposite.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Ableism... What Teachers Say and Think Matter

Ableism - NCCJ. (n.d.).

  1. discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.

There are few, if any, topics in education that impact our ability to serve students in optimized, effective, and appropriate ways than that of ableism. Ableism is the intentional or unintentional discrimination or oppression of individuals with disabilities. (Ableism - NCCJ, n.d.) 

Reading the definition of ableism above elicits thoughts of "why would anyone involved teaching discriminate or oppress already marginalized students?" It's a harsh definition describing an illogical occurrence, but nonetheless, one that happens quite routinely if we're being honest with ourselves. 

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